(Continued from previous page)

Railway Preservation Resources

Prep work-

Just as important as selecting the right material for the tarp is doing the prep work before applying it. The tarp needs to have a smooth surface on which to lay, free from sharp edges and loose fasteners that can (and will) work their way through to the surface. There are a variety of common materials which can be used as “padding” ; roofing paper and foam roll are two examples. Care should be taken to avoid using materials which will absorb water; tarps do tear and if water gets in you don’t want a sponge underneath to keep your car wet.


Pay particular attention to the roofs edges and any other surface where the tarp will be pulled taught and rub against, these are the areas that need the most padding. Car sides and ends also need to have sharp edges and other potential problem areas covered over. Large roof-top components like trolley poles, ventilators and chimneys are better off being removed entirely to make for a better installation (remember to tag them and put them inside the car). Since one of the goals of conservation is to be as non-invasive as possible, this becomes a judgment call. It would be nice to leave it in place, but if it pokes a hole in the tarp, you could have other problems.


Foam roll can be stapled directly to wooden roofs and sash. An Arrow T50 staple gun or equivalent, equipped with a staple length slightly longer than the thickness of the foam does minimal damage to the surface.

The real basket cases- 

In some cases the roof may be so far gone that preparing it for a tarp using the previously described methods may be impractical. Or, you might need to protect a car which is already in very good condition, and disassembly would only make for more work after the storage period is over. After all, one of the purposes of conservation work is to leave the artifact as intact as possible. This will maximize its value as a study piece, as well as make any future restoration work that much easier. 


In these cases, there are a variety of geomembrane plastics which make excellent sub-layers for tarps. I have even used them by themselves as tarps. Once installed, the geomembrane provides a nice smooth layer over which the tarp can easily be pulled. It also provides a waterproof “second skin”, another layer of defense should the tarp develop a leak.  


Applying the tarp- 

To begin, I would avoid trying to install a tarp on a windy day, you may find yourself struggling to control a giant kite! That having been said, after completing application of the under-layer, the tarp is rolled out in front of the car. Ideally a crew of not less than five people are used. One person is on the roof (ideally the lightest member of the crew) with at least two people on each side of the tarp. The folks on the ground pass the tarp up to the person on the roof who guides it up and over. A ladder is strategically placed at the opposite end of the car to permit a safe exit from the roof once the tarp has been walked over to the end. Another method is to place the rolled up tarp on one end of the roof and unroll it from there, guiding the edges down to assistants on the ground who can pull it tight. This of course requires a roof which will support the weight! (A streetcar-sized vinyl-coated nylon tarp can easily weigh 200 pounds, so be careful where you concentrate the weight). 


For tarps with grommets along the perimeter, another option is to fasten ropes to several of the holes along one side and then pull the tarp over the car from the other side. This requires that the tarp be unrolled on the ground along one side of the car, and that four or more people be on hand to gently tug on the ropes together, hoisting the tarp like a large sail. In either case, keep an eye on the tarp as it goes on and don’t let it snag on anything. After the tarp is actually on the roof, keep two people holding it on each side (remember, you don’t want it to become a kite) while a fifth person walks around and gets things evened up on all four sides. This can be done by pulling on one side. After everything is evened up, have two people stand at one end of the car and hold on to the tarp while another two people pull from the other end to pull out any big wrinkles which can cause trouble later on.

Above: Geomembrane plastic applied over trolley at Orange Empire Railway Museum.


Adding the ropes-

Next, the ropes to hold the tarp can be applied. Use only a high-quality nylon rope such as 3/8” California Trucker’s Rope (this black and orange rope can be purchased in large rolls at home improvement warehouse stores). Whatever you do, don’t use cheap yellow nylon rope- it won’t last and you’ll have a kite on your hands before you know it! An alternative to the ropes is to use rubber straps with hooks at each end. (This will of course require grommets along the edges of the tarp). These work well for short term application, but for long-term storage in areas where UV exposure is very high, the rubber will tend to dry up quickly, and the straps will snap.


For flat-sheet tarps, it’s best to wrap the tarp every 6 feet or so with ropes that pass all the way over and under the car. Start with a rope around the center, and then two more near the ends. Tie them off snuggly to hold things in place and then add the other ropes. Making things tight during installation is important, as the ropes may tend to loosen a bit after some time in the field. (With the vinyl-coated nylon tarps, the "over and under" ropes may be unnecessary. Because the tarp material is so heavy, simply tying off the grommets along the bottom edges will usually suffice).

After the car is wrapped with the “over and under” ropes, the end flaps need to be folded. You can do this by having two people grab an end and lift it up over their heads while two others grab the remaining corners and walk them in and onto the front of the car. Holding these two folds in place, the end flap is then laid on top. To hold things in place, pass a rope across the front from the nearest over-and-under rope. After completing this folding exercise on the other end of the car, apply a long rope all the way around the car at the middle. Weave this rope on top of and then behind the over-and-under ropes. To complete the job, take a few short pieces and tie the center rope and the over-and-under ropes together where they cross over each other. 


Tarp maintenance-

It’s best to check on the tarp a few weeks after installation, making sure that everything is holding on ok. The tarp should subsequently be checked at regular intervals (particularly after periods of windy weather) and any problems corrected promptly. The ropes eventually wear out, and will need to be replaced about every two years depending on local conditions. When replacing the ropes, offset the new ones slightly, placing them on a fresh surface. 


What wears the tarp out?

With something as large as a railroad car, air manages to get underneath the tarp and cause it to “breathe”. This constant movement tends to wear the tarp wherever it rubs against something, including any ropes being used to hold it on. The fabric itself also wears over its entire exposed area, breaking down and becoming more susceptible to tearing as it ages. Wear caused by the ropes can be mitigated in part by sleeving the ropes as noted in the previous text. Another approach is to install grommets on the edges of the tarp and only pass ropes underneath the car. This works very well with the heavier vinyl-coated nylon tarps, because the weight of the tarp tends to resist the wind wanting blow the tarp off of the car. This is harder to do with the Armorlon tarps, which can start blowing around pretty good, trying to break the ropes and grommets along the bottom edge. A combination of the two methods works well in some cases, supplementing the bottom support with only two or three “over-and-under” ropes and a single wrap around the middle. As noted, local weather conditions (especially UV exposure) will affect life expectancy, as will the quality of the installation. 


A word about ventilation- 

In high-humidity environments, consideration should also be given to ventilation. After all, you don't want to turn your carbody into a terrarium. Sewn-in vents are available on the vinyl-coated nylon tarps, although a more practical solution may be to simply cover the car or locomotive in a manner which permits some air flow inside the tarp. As an example, a passenger coach might be covered completely on its sides, but the end doorways left open. The doorways could instead be covered with a sheet of plywood that incorporates screened vents. The other alternative is to cocoon the car inside a plywood shell, which we'll discuss in Part II below.



Resources- Tarp Manufacturers

Armorlon- Reef Industries Houston Texas 800-231-2077

Vinyl coated nylon- Neilly Canvas 800-745-4837

Recommended rope: 3/8” “California Trucker’s Rope” (black/orange) made by Lehigh Industries, distributed in by Home Depot, Grainger, other outlets.

Tarp repair tape: “Griff Tape” also made by Reef Industries, comes in 6 inch wide rolls.


Part II- Cocoons


Another alternative for interim stabilization is to cocoon the body of the vehicle inside a shell made of plywood or other material. This is a bit more involved than a tarp, but it has its own merits, particularly in high-humidity environments where a tarp might cause the body of the vehicle to "sweat". 


Hidden behind the plywood in this photo is a Los Angeles Railway "Huntington Standard" streetcar body. The plywood sheeting has been given a waterproofing treatment and the roof is covered with geomembrane plastic. It's not much of a display, but the car is protected!

A simple framework comprised of 2x4's has been installed against the carbody itself so that the plywood is not laying directly against the exterior surfaces of the car. This provides something to nail the plywood to, and lets air flow through the entire enclosure.   



This tin shed hides a Pacific Electric interurban carbody. Once again, a framework of 2x4's was placed around the car. 

The roof is plywood covered with layers of roofing felt and roofing paper. The roofing paper was applied in the traditional method with mastic around all the joints, and nailed to the plywood with a nail gun (with nails only along the edges of the roofing paper). 

After a few years, a coating of "aluminum trailer coat" paint was applied on top of the roofing paper. This can be done at anytime (at least anytime before the roofing paper starts to fail) and dramatically increases the life of the roofing paper.



This plywood cocoon covers a wooden passenger car at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. The numerous vents are a response to the local weather conditions- lots of moisture in this part of the country. 

Here again a framework of 2x4's keeps the plywood off the skin of the car, providing ample opportunity for ventilation. The roof is covered with roofing paper.

John Smatlak Photos - click on image to enlarge


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